Oppenheim: Unfiltered Outrage

Jun 13, 2018

A couple of my students just completed a documentary about a police corruption case in western Massachusetts. But in the movie, people who spoke on camera were either unwilling – or maybe too afraid – to condemn a police chief jailed for embezzlement.

And the general critique was - the piece was good, but it lacked a sense of outrage. In other words, why would this story be worth watching if people in it weren’t more angry?

But flip this concept it on its head and you can find plenty of outrage on the national stage.

From the left, there’s Robert DeNiro using the F-bomb in reference to President Trump at the Tony Awards, comedian Samantha Bee using vulgar language to describe Ivanka Trump and criticizing her for not doing enough to influence the President on immigration.

From the right, Roseanne Barr tweeted racist comments about Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett. And Trump advisor Peter Navarro – referring to Canada’s Justin Trudeau – railed that there’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader who engages in bad faith diplomacy.

Now we know a person’s tolerance varies according to where that person’s outrage falls on the political spectrum, and to be honest, when I heard DeNiro cuss, one side of my brain kind of liked it.

And of course, the context for all of this is that these aren’t normal times. The administration’s attacks on the media and our allies with increasingly divisive language, has understandably fueled a lot of anger. So when DeNiro got a standing ovation for using profanity, I wanted to conclude that it was an appropriate form of protest.

But the other side of my brain knows better. It’s not a good idea to wallow in the muck.

And we are, believe it or not, only months away from the start of the next presidential campaign. That means we’re going to be thinking about leaders who can express ideas, aspirations – and yes, even anger to the nation - appropriately.

The coming debate won’t be just about politics, but also about behavior and decorum. And I think both parties need new role models.

So sorry, Robert DeNiro – you got it wrong. When it comes to outrage, we’d be better off to take a page from Goldilocks, and know the difference between too hot, too cold – and just right.